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Manhattan Beach Votes for 'Acknowledgement and Condemnation' of Bruce's Beach

Apr 06, 2021 11:52PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday night voted for an "acknowledgement and condemnation" of the Bruce's Beach situation, but stopped short of voting for an apology for the events of 100 years ago.

The vote was 4-1, with Mayor Suzanne Hadley and Councilmembers Joe Franklin, Steve Napolitano, and Richard Montgomery voting in favor. Mayor Pro Tem Hildy Stern was the lone dissenting vote. 

The vote followed hours of public comments - and months of public debate - about how Manhattan Beach should respond to a renewed outcry over its racially motivated eminent domain seizure of land owned by the Bruce family in the 1920s.

The resolution, as proposed by Councilmember Franklin, stopped short of using the word "apology." As approved, it is titled, "A statement of the City Council of the City of Manhattan Beach acknowledging, empathizing, and condemning the city's role in the racially motivated condemnation of properties in the area known as Bruce's Beach."

The council did not vote on three other proposals that had been put forth - one by the now-disbanded Bruce's Beach Task Force, one by Councilmember Napolitano, and one by Mayor Pro Tem Stern. 

Apology or Acknowledgement? 


Much of the debate centered on whether an apology was an appropriate response.

Councilmember Franklin introduced his resolution by saying, "It is not for the residents of Manhattan Beach today to apologize for what some residents did 100 years ago. It rings hollow. No one living here in Manhattan Beach today did those things to the Bruce family and others. What is needed is an acknowledgement and condemnation of those actions."

Yet Mayor Pro Tem Stern and Councilmember Napolitano, who had both introduced resolutions of apology, said they believed that an apology was appropriate and needed.

"In the 1920s, Manhattan Beach sent a message: We don’t want Black people to live here; we don’t even want Black people to come here for recreation," said Stern in defense of her apology resolution. "Now we have the opportunity to learn from that time in history, to do something that has meaning, to come together as a community...An apology is a win for everyone, and most notably for those who have felt helpless and unprotected for so long."

Napolitano concurred: "Bruce's Beach has been a crack in the foundation in our community for the last 100 years, and an apology is the best way to strengthen that foundation for the next 100 years," he said. "I’m not opposed to an acknowledgement; I just think it’s a half step. I appreciate [Franklin's] attempt to find a middle ground. I just think if we don’t do it today, a future council will."

Creating Liability for the City?


Both Stern and Napolitano told DigMB that the city attorney had advised them that an apology would provide little to no risk of future liability.

Yet Mayor Hadley said that she was not willing to put the city at any potential risk. "Issuing an apology from a city with deep pockets, where we’re an attractive target - that is a risk too far," said Hadley. Maybe a future Manhattan Beach City Council will bring the issue up again, she conceded, "but we need to move forward. This city has very pressing problems we need to turn to."

Hadley said that as mayor, she felt the need to protect the city from expensive litigation that could potentially hit residents in the pocket and/or delay city projects or construction. She also alluded to some legal "threats" that the city had received that the public was not aware of.

"What kind of councilmember would I be to say, 'We’ve got a higher risk of litigation and I don't care?'" she said. "This is about risk. I am less wiling to spend the taxpayer money of residents of Manhattan Beach on litigation that we can avoid and shut down tonight."

To that question, Stern replied, "That [kind of] baseless litigation can happen in any situation. We don’t avoid taking any action in this city because there could be baseless litigation. I don’t see any difference. Somehow you feel like this acknowledgement [versus an apology] is going to protect you."

Napolitano added: If we’re going to be sued, we’re going to be sued no matter what."

Adding 'Empathy,' Finalizing History


When it became clear that Franklin's version was the motion that was likely to move forward, council members began adding small edits. 

Councilmember Montgomery requested that Franklin's motion be amended to include the word "empathizing" along with "acknowledging and condemning."

Napolitano also asked for, and was granted, the removal of a sentence in Franklin's motion that said "All owners were paid fair market value or higher for their properties as determined by the Los Angeles County Superior Court."

"It’s not about the condemnation; they got paid for it. It’s about the racial motivation behind it," said Napolitano. "If it was just about condemnation, we wouldn’t be here at all."

Stern said that she had several edits to Franklin's version, beginning with removing the word "reportedly" from "These acts reportedly consisted of..."; and the word "ostensible" from the line, "The ostensible purpose of these actions was to make Manhattan Beach inhospitable to Black American residents and visitors."

Franklin said that he had considered those words carefully, and wanted to leave them that way because the Bruce's Beach Task Force's History Subcommittee has not yet finished its work. 

Stern replied that if he was not comfortable with the historical facts of his resolution, that the city should put off voting on it until the resolution was finalized.

That suggestion was swiftly rejected by the mayor and other city council members, who moved ahead with a vote without hearing further edits from Stern. The resolution was approved, 4-1.

Bruce's Beach Background

The story of Bruce's Beach dates back to the early 1900s, when Charles and Willa Bruce built a popular beach resort for African Americans in Manhattan Beach. By the end of the 1920s, with pressure from community members who did not want African Americans in the town, Manhattan Beach's Board of Trustees (a precursor to the modern city council) claimed the land under eminent domain and displaced the Bruce family as well as other families who had settled in the area.

It was not until 2006 that the city publicly acknowledged this chapter of its history by naming the area Bruce's Beach, and it was not until the summer of 2020 that a movement began growing for the city to take further action to recognize the Bruces.

After a summer of racial unrest and controversy surrounding the history of Bruce's Beach, the Manhattan Beach city council agreed to form the task force to look at new ways to recognize and commemorate  Bruce's Beach park. The task force members were selected in late October and given four months to prepare their report. The task force was disbanded after they gave their report in March (with the exception of the history subcommittee, which is still waiting to access certain documents that have been delayed).

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